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Friday, January 12, 2018

DECEMBER 2017 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, The Trouble with Goats & Sheep by Joanna Cannon

27 Bookers, including our newest member, Katherine Maxwell-McDonald, brought the spirit of the season to the home of Beverly Dossett. Many thanks to Bonnie Magee for organizing the menu once again, to those who furnished the perfect accompaniments to insure we would all be merry and bright, with special thanks to Virginia Gandy for loaning her champagne flutes, and to Beverly for hosting our celebration with devoted bibliophiles.

In keeping with the festivities, we sang Happy Birthday to Rosemary Farmer, who will turn ninety years young on December 26. We shared wonderful news about Elaine Bownes who is living up to the “PPC can’t beat E!” motto on her bracelet as her Primary Peritoneal Cancer tumor markers which began over 2,000 four months ago are now 27 (normal.) And, Sheri Green who is fighting lung cancer, is tolerating her initial round of chemotherapy well. To everyone battling health issues, we are planted in your corner and will continue to send good thoughts and prayers your way.

Longtime Pinnacle resident, Bookers’ member, and dear friend Jane Freer’s passing last July left an indelible void in our community and our hearts. Gary has placed a brick in her honor in the Memory Garden and Bookers will participate in a dedication ceremony in remembrance of Jane. Spring is a season of new beginnings when flowers bloom, animals awaken, farmers and gardeners plant seeds, and temperatures rise as the earth is awash with renewal. Leo Tolstoy said, “Spring is the time of plans and projects,” and we feel this will be the perfect time for our tribute. Gary agrees. More details will be forthcoming.

In keeping with this month’s selection, Janet Noblitt offered the inspirational story of a Greenhill high school runner, Ariana Luterman, competing in the Dallas marathon who sacrificed her own competition to aid another runner across the finish line. She saw someone in need and she did not hesitate to come to her rescue. Ariana is clearly in the “sheep” category!

The majority of our group read this month’s selection. Three liked it. I made four. Some thought it was “much to do about nothing…a waste of time.” I smiled through the whole book – it was charming told through a child’s point of view – the innocence of youth and a can-do attitude – nothing would stand in the way of their mission.

A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson as told by Jesus in the Gospels. It makes moral observations and is intended to teach. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects where parables have human characters. An example of a parable is in Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea highlighting man’s perseverance through the hardest of times. Fables occur in works like the tortoise and the hare.

Joanna Cannon used the parable of sheep and goats found in Matthew 25:31-46 where all those on earth will be brought before the Lord and He will separate them as a “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” The core message of the parable is that God’s people (the sheep) will treat others with kindness and love others, while the goats can perform acts of kindness, their hearts are not right with God, and their actions are not for the right purpose. It points out the difference between man redeemed and saved versus man condemned and lost.

Before we start discussing this month’s selection and because we are in the midst of this divine holiday, I’d like to share “A Modern Parable” aired on the radio by Paul Harvey. It introduced a kind, descent, mostly good man, generous to his family and upright in his dealings with other men. He was not a Scrooge, but he did not believe in what the churches proclaimed of God coming to earth as a man. He told his wife he would not be joining her at church on Christmas Eve as he thought it hypocritical. The family left and snow began to fall. He watched through his window as the flurries got heavier and heavier discovering a flock of birds huddled in the snow caught in the storm and desperate to find shelter. He could not let them freeze so he planned to direct them to the warmth of their barn. He opened the doors wide, turned on the light, and sprinkled breadcrumbs on the snow leading them to safety – to no avail. He tried catching them and shooing them into the barn – failed again. It was then he realized they were afraid of him…if only he could be a bird and show them the way to the safe warmth of the barn…if only he could mingle with them and speak their language so they could see and hear and understand. At that moment, the church bells began to ring…the sound reaching his ears above the sound of the wind. He stood there listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas…and he sank to his knees in the snow. Disbelief left his heart as his eyes filled with the miracle of faith. The concept of religion is such a personal one as pointed out in the book both traditionally in the church references and in the pronouncement that you can find God everywhere as illustrated in this modern parable. It demonstrates we should do the best we can and trust that there is a power bigger than you are…whether you call it God, or the universe, or a source energy, the universal truth is that there is something out of our immediate control and all we must do is trust that belief. Merry Christmas to all and to all stay tuned as we pick apart Joanna Cannon’s debut novel.

The author, masterfully through her phrasings, displayed the concept of showing the reader something rather than telling them…the goal of every writer. An example of this would be describing a character whose shoulders slumped, his watery eyes dragging behind every step in the direction of the maternity ward instead of telling the reader he was distraught. Ms. Cannon would say, “The vicar smelled exactly the same as the church. Faith had been trapped within the folds of his clothes, and the air was filled with the scent of tapestry and candles.” That is showing, not telling.
The story behind goats and sheep developed from the author’s work in psychiatry, where she met a lot of people who “unbelong,” those who live on the periphery of life pushed by society to fit in but never can quite get it right. They are the “goats.” It’s only when something goes wrong and society needs someone to blame, the sheep turn to the goats and announce they must be guilty because they just look the type. Unbelonging drives this novel…there’s a little bit of it in all of us – it’s just that some people hide it better than others. Everyone on the Avenue has something to conceal, a reason for not fitting in and in the midst of the unprecedented heat wave in the UK coupled with a severe drought in 1976, the stage was set for tempers fraying and “people going crazy” as the neighborhood began to deconstruct. In the midst of the scorched earth, it became evident no one was in control of everything – certainly not the weather. Local posts reported swarms of ladybirds searching for food attacking humans as they tried to rehydrate by drinking people’s sweat. The minister for drought suggested people pour washing-up water into the toilet, instead of flushing and to “take a bath with a friend.” Mick Jagger performed a concert bare-chested…the heat the justification for behavior. Through the eyes of Grace, the ten-year-old narrator, the reader discovers that if we scratch the surface of most sheep, we might find ourselves a goat and we learn that unbelonging is actually a belonging all of its own.

The Avenue resembled a small town, both in size and attitude. Most residents knew the business of the other residents, but what they didn’t know until the end was each had secrets and most were goats in sheep’s clothing. The talk of the town was the disappearance of one of their residents, Mrs. Creasy. On the outside, the neighbors worried for her safety, but on the inside, they feared she knew too much about a decade old fire, worrying who she was going to tell. Acting on the words of a local vicar saying God is everywhere, Grace and Tilly, young friends and junior sleuths, set out to find Him convinced that was the only way Mrs. Creasy would return home. Tilly stumbled upon an image of Jesus in a drainpipe, and for the Avenue it gave them something to believe in…pointing out you only really need two people to believe in the same thing to feel as though you might just belong.”
Secrets play a significant role in this novel. How many times have you heard, can you keep a secret? Orwell said, “If you want to keep a secret, you also have to hide it from yourself.” We rationalize that the person who entrusted us with the secret needs us to protect them from being judged, which is most people’s biggest fear.

 The trouble with goats and sheep as the title suggests, is it is not easy to clearly define who’s who. We talked about the characters and why they fit into either category, some fitting into both. Tilly was definitely a sheep…she was innocent, always wanting to please. Grace was a bit of both although her intentions were pure and na├»ve like Tilly’s and she relished being the leader with Tilly following her every step, she longed to be in the company of the older, cooler, wiser, sixteen-year old Lisa Dakin. The rest of the Avenue neighbors seemed to do nothing but wring their hands and try to protect their personal secrets along with the group conspiracy to get Walter Bishop out of the neighborhood…he was an unbelonger. He was persecuted, the obvious scapegoat in the story as someone pointed out…he might have looked different and acted oddly, and because of that, he was the person of interest for anything and everything that went wrong in the Avenue. We decided goats have more fun than sheep and they can eat anything they want. We put ourselves in Grace and Tilly’s shoes sharing our childhood summertime adventures.    

With regard to the open-ended ending…the whole book led up to something happening, but it didn’t. If it had been tied up in a neat little package, we would not have believed that once Mrs. Creasy stepped off the bus, everything would go back to “happily-ever-after.” Buried secrets had surfaced for the residents of the Avenue…the cat was out of the bag…leaving them to deal with their fate and the chatter might not be pleasant when the fingers began to point. There is not a sequel in the works but the novel has been optioned for television…maybe the door will close then.

                                                On the business side:
Jean McSpadden recommended a possible Bookers’ book to consider, The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. It’s a historical fiction about a woman who chaperones silent film star, Louise Brooks, to New York in the 1920’s. Soon to be a motion picture.
                             COLOR CODING SYSTEM
                             WHITE:          LIGHT READ
                             PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
                             RED:              CHALLENGING
January 9, 2018                     Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
Based on a true story of a forgotten hero, an Italian teenager during World War II…soon to be a motion picture.
RED
                                                Home of Daryl Daniels
                                                Reviewer: Patty Evans
February 13                           The Mourning Parade by Dawn Reno Langley
The mother of two sons killed in a school shooting leaves her successful veterinary practice to volunteer in an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.
                                                LIGHT RED
                                                Home of Bonnie Magee
Reviewer: Jean Alexander
March 13                                The Rainwater Secret by Monica Shaw
Debut historical fiction by Dallas author based on the life of her great aunt about a missionary woman in Africa to teach leper children.
                                                PINK                                     
Home of Patty Evans
We are excited to announce the author will be joining us for the meeting
April 10                                  The Uncertain Season by Texas author Ann Howard Creel
Follows the lives of three women in the aftermath of the 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston…one living a privileged life, her disgraced and flamboyant cousin, and an unnamed girl living on the streets.
                                                Home of Sandy Molander
                                                Reviewer: TBD
May 15                                   Change of date due to travel plans
To Everything A Season – Sherri Schaeffer, a debut set in Amish country in Lancaster Pennsylvania where two worlds collide forcing them together.
                                                Home of Donna Walter
                                                Reviewer: TBD
Summer Read:                      America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha, “Patsy” becomes the keeper of the secrets and her father’s confidant after her mother’s death and his appointment as the American Minister to France.
Maybe a good New Year’s resolution would be shed our goat coats and adopt a more wooly lifestyle. It is unrealistic to expect a book to be everyone’s cup of tea but my hope for the rest of our reading year is that more of our cups of tea are in alignment.

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading,
JoDee


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